Tim Farron is in Bethnal Green tonight launching the Liberal Democrats 2017 manifesto. As the party try to keep hopes for a ‘Lib Dem fightback’ alive, the policies on offer appear to be aimed at winning the youth vote. They include introducing an NHS tax, raising £1bn in tax from proposals to legalise cannabis, help to get on the property ladder and bus passes for young people.
However, it’s Brexit that lies at the heart of the manifesto — or, to be more precise, the party’s opposition to it. The Liberal Democrats say they would hold a second EU referendum on the final Brexit deal which would ‘give the final say to the British people’. Speaking at the launch tonight on a stage emblazoned with EU stars, Farron said:
‘When last year’s referendum took place I campaigned harder than anyone else to remain. I believed passionately that our children would have a brighter future if Britain remained in the European Union. But we lost – and I accept that. But that doesn’t mean I have changed what I believe.
I believe that our children will have a brighter future if we are inside the European Union. That they will be safer and better off. That our economy will be stronger and our country will have more influence in the world.’
Now we know that the Liberal Democrats will not win a majority so there will be no second referendum. By promising one, however, the party is pitching itself firmly to the 48pc who voted to Remain, rather than the electorate at large. The problem for Farron and his party (as the disappointing local election result hinted at) is that this 48pc is diminishing fast. A YouGov poll this month claimed that only 22pc of the electorate are now strongly opposed to leaving the EU, with many Remain voters coming round to the referendum result. That figure suggests the Liberal Democrat strategy of preaching to the converted will only work for a minority of the electorate at best.